The Forty Thieves

I was at a loose end, staring out of the window looking at crows, and my mind turned to Ali Baba and his Forty Thieves. With a start, I realised how little I knew about them. As luck would have it, the very next day at a rummage sale I picked up a copy of a privately-printed pamphlet by Knud Padde, described on the title page as a Lecturer in Arabian Thievery Studies at the University of Ack-on-the-Vug, or possibly the University of Vug-on-the-Ack. Here is his list of the Forty Thieves, together with “preliminary notes” on each thief.

Corky – a hireling thief, a chump, a talc-powdered wastrel.

Mutcho – greasy, vindictive, base.

Ibster – looms terrible in dreams, licks ice cream cones.

Guff – the boffin of the gang, and sniper, and Tippi Hedren’s penpal,

Spoors – great galumphing fool, Oppidan, thimble-fumbler.

Waxy – waxy.

Geraldo – of monstrous girth, of lively demeanour, of hand-stitched tunics.

Carsten – polishes off raisins, swigs tap water, goes shod in clogs.

Fang – inhabits palatial apartments with his wolf and his minuets.

Sudbury – exists on a higher plane, thumps things, distressed.

Oswin – suffers fools gladly, hung out to dry.

Bantock – dustpan and brush man, Hotspur, clackety rhythm.

Mort – hedger, was a water-bailiff, albino.

Chippy – wanting eggs.

Hardcastle – fevered brow, distorted spine, curly ringlets.

Aptod – when first he flew he blundered into branches of dark trees.

Shopworn – lacks the common touch, hoist by petards, a darling.

Urbane – urbane yet ditzy, polka-dotted, ruminant.

Dobbin – pumped gas back in Montana, unbridled savagery, lacks depth.

Inky – several contradictory reports, buff-coloured envelope, chalk dust.

Hig – shallow, potted, wet.

Anglepoise – Jesuit upbringing, weather station, tarred with broad brush.

Snapper – bolt upright, sprained ankles, Maoist.

Boomer – booming voice, bloody nose, best before dusk.

Chepstow – owls nest in his hair, he plays the piccolo, he eats mashed potato.

Zigzoo – champs at bits, stinks of Jarlsberger, often with conifers.

Delmore – lurid, spiteful, mechanical.

Esher – flabby, subject to fits, member of Tuesday Weld Fan Club.

Jetboy – likely to be found upon rotating things in park playgrounds.

Casement – proudly lumpen, secretly engaged to a flapper, podcaster.

Uck – abnormal alignment of head upon neck, neck grubby, hair unwashed.

Fig – a stone’s throw from the sea, green about the gills, hot to trot.

Straubenzee – sings the songs his mother taught him in that Darmstadt nursery.

Fogbound – clatters to and fro, goes haywire, made of cement.

Wailywaily – hidden behind shutters, brilliantine in his hair, indiscreet.

Burgess – over by the ice rink, underneath the arches, powered by batteries.

Mudguard – guards mud.

Pepinstow – thunderous hooves, brilliant plumage, exquisite table manners.

Dixon – marimba, clutching at straws, gin slings and blood oranges.

Quangocrat – double helpings of sausage-shaped dough snacks.

This is a slightly revised version of a piece which originally appeared in 2011.

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